Stewart Manor Residents Frown On Proposed School Budget

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Elmont School District taxpayers could see a 6.9 percent increase

Residents attending the Stewart Manor Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday, May 1, gave a resounding thumbs-down to the 2012-13 proposed budget for the Elmont Union Free School District. The proposed $78.56 million budget marks a 2.8 percent increase from 2011-12 and would yield a 6.87 percent tax levy jump over last year. The majority of village residents live within the Elmont district, but many homes on Fernwood Terrace are zoned for Garden City public schools.

Residents present at the May 1 meeting questioned why Elmont’s proposed increase is so much higher than the other 56 districts in Nassau County, with the exception of neighboring Floral Park-Bellerose, which is proposing a budget that would increase taxes by 6.58 percent. Residents also expressed concern that the nearly 6.9 percent increase exceeds the state’s 2 percent cap on property tax increases.

“The people I speak to are horrified that this 6.9 percent increase … is three times what the state allotted for, or recommended as, an increase,” said a Carlton Terrace resident. “I don’t know a lot of people who got a 7 percent increase in salary last year, and I don’t think that this higher school budget, in spite of the fact that they may find wonderful things to spend it on, increases your property value.”

Another resident expressed similar concerns. “You have Fernwood, [and] their values of their homes are $600,000, mine is $450,000, and they’re paying less taxes than I’m paying. I’m paying $8,000 almost in school taxes for a [1,600 square foot home]. … It’s ridiculous, and I don’t know when it’s going to end. My taxes went up $800 last year – that’s crazy.”

According to the Elmont Dialogue newsletter, the breakdown of the proposed budget is as follows: personnel, 57.22 percent; employee benefits, 23.65 percent; contractual, 6.2 percent; BOCES, 5.69 percent; debt service, 2.66 percent; supplies/textbooks, 2.15 percent; interfund/capital, 1.91 percent; and equipment, 0.52 percent. The 2.8 percent proposed budget increase over last year includes state-mandated expenses, which comprise 2.3 percent. State mandates include medical insurance, pension rate increases and special education program costs, the last of which requires $3.1 million more compared with actual costs last year.

While it is not the village board of trustees’ role to take “an official position” on school budgets – a question that was posed by the Carlton Road resident— Trustee James Lynch likened the residents’ concern to the situation they faced with the Stewart Manor Branch of the Elmont Public Library.

“We saw what happened in the Elmont library board, and that was pretty unsuccessful in our opinion, in that they held the taxes down but lost the library. One of the things that the village did was to encourage involvement in the library board, and one of our residents actually became an Elmont Library board member,” he said. “Nobody in Stewart Manor, I believe in the last dozen years [has been on the school board in Elmont], but that would be one possibility. I know it did make a difference having [a Stewart Manor resident on the library board]. That was the unofficial position of this village and this board: to support one of our residents being on the library board.”

The second step, Kelly said, is to gain representation on the school board. “We didn’t get desired results with the library, but it was great just having a voice. Having a pipeline of information was, and still is, a tremendous benefit,” he said. According to the district clerk’s office, residents who have lived within the district for at least 30 days and are registered to vote in the district can seek election to the board. Petitions become available from the district office in February of each year and must be returned in mid-April. To get onto the ballot, potential candidates are required to have signatures from 2 percent of the number of voters who voted in the previous year’s election. Terms for the school board are three years, as opposed to the library board’s five-year terms, and the number of terms a member can be voted onto the board is unlimited.

In order for the proposed budget to pass on May 15, a voter supermajority of 60 percent must vote yes. Under a law approved by the state last year, an increase in annual school taxes beyond the state’s tax cap requires at least 60 percent voter approval. If the budget does not pass, the board of education could reduce the budget by $2.5 million to seek a 50 percent voter approval rate in a second referendum, or the board could adopt a contingency budget that would require budget reductions of $3.4 million, according to the district office.

Mayor Kelly suggested the first step that concerned residents should take is to participate in the Elmont School District budget vote on Tuesday, May 15. Registered voters can vote at the Stewart Manor School, located at 38 Stewart Ave., between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. Voter registration inquiries should be directed to the office of the district clerk at 516-326-5500, ext. 42002. Absentee ballots can be picked up from the district clerk’s office at 135 Elmont Rd. Call 434-2002 for additional information.

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